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Yamaha RX-N600 review: Yamaha RX-N600

Yamaha RX-N600

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
7 min read
Over the last past few years, the A/V receiver's role as a home-theater control center has expanded with the times. So while most buyers will hook up only their DVD player, cable box, and possibly a game console, an ever-increasing number of consumers would also like to use the receiver to play music from their ever-increasing digital audio collection--be it in the form of a satellite radio subscription, Internet radio, an MP3 collection on their PC hard drive, portable music player, or--of course--the iPod. That makes a lot of sense to us, since a home theater probably has higher-quality speakers than a computer's, and an A/V receiver's electronics are better and more powerful than a computer's sound card. With the RX-N600 receiver ($600), Yamaha covered those new connectivity requirements and didn't neglect sound quality. There are just two problems. First, serious digital music fans will lament some of the restrictions on the product's MP3-streaming capabilities. Secondly, the otherwise amply endowed Yamaha lacks HDMI switching, a feature that's growing increasingly critical for anyone who's serious about home theater. The front panel of the Yamaha RX-N600 is clearly organized, and the large orange front-panel LED display is easy on the eyes. The receiver measures 17.1 wide by 15.5 inches deep and weighs 25.8 pounds, and it's available only in a black finish.

Unlike most Yamaha receivers we've tested over the past few years, the RX-N600 doesn't offer the company's YPAO (Yamaha Parametric Room Acoustic Optimizer) auto-setup program, but the manual setup and onscreen menu are easy enough to use. The receiver offers an unusually wide range of subwoofer-to-satellite crossover settings--40, 60, 80, 90, 100, 110, 120, 160, and 200 Hertz--which helps ensure that no matter how small or large, your sub and sats will produce seamless bass. You can use the Center Graphic Equalizer feature to adjust the tonal balance of your center speaker to more closely match the sound of your main left and right front speakers. We found the EQ adjustment easy to set, and it created a more seamless balance of our front three speakers.


Yamaha RX-N600

The Good

The Yamaha RX-N600 is a 6.1-channel A/V receiver that offers connectivity to Ethernet home networks, USB storage devices, and (with an optional dock) the Apple iPod. It's also XM ready and supports component-video conversion from composite and S-Video.

The Bad

There are no HDMI jacks, and the receiver lacks an automatic setup option. You can't configure the list of available Internet radio stations, and the USB playback didn't work with some of the thumbdrives we tried.

The Bottom Line

Digital music fans will find a lot to like about the Yamaha RX-N600, but its dearth of HDMI options will frustrate HDTV owners.

The remote control has a side-mounted slide switch that toggles between Amp, Source, and TV, which makes it easy to control different components. Layout is fairly intuitive as compared to other receiver remotes, but--as always--you'll be better off if you invest in a good universal remote control. We were a little surprised to note that the Yamaha RX-N600 is a 6.1-channel receiver, rather than the 7.1 configuration found on many $300 and up models. That said, we doubt the lack of one surround channel will make a difference in perceived sound quality or the envelopment of the surround effects on movies or multichannel music. This six times 95-watt receiver comes with a better than average assortment of surround processing modes--Dolby Pro Logic IIx, Dolby Digital EX, DTS-ES Discrete 6.1, DTS Neo:6, and DTS 96/24--and like most Yamaha receivers, it offers a vast assortment of user-customizable Cinema DSP surround modes, such as Movie Theater/Sci-fi, Game, and TV Sports.

This receiver's advanced connectivity options are what separates it from the competition. The RX-N600 has built-in networking functionality (wired only, via an Ethernet port on the rear panel), giving it the ability to access Internet radio stations and PC-based music files. (The N600 can also stream music from the Yamaha MusicCast audio server family of products.) Note that the RX-N600 supports only unprotected MP3 and WMA files, so you won't be able to listen to files purchased from places such as Rhapsody and Napster. Likewise, you're out of luck if you've ripped files to Apple's default AAC format or purchased them online.

On the front panel is a USB port, where you can plug in a USB mass storage device such as an MP3 player or a flash drive and play back MP3 and WMA files. That port won't work with iPods, but that's OK--the RX-N600 is compatible with the optional Yamaha YDS-10 iPod dock. Just put your fourth-generation or newer iPod in the cradle, and you can browse through your music collection with the onscreen display and the remote. The only caveat is that the display will not work if you want to browse videos or pictures; you'll need to use the iPod's controls to do that. It's inconvenient, but no worse than every other iPod-compatible receiver we've tested. One big positive note: the YDS-10 dock's single cable hookup is a breeze compared to Onkyo's and Denon's docks, which have as many as five wires.

Back to the standard connectivity offerings: the RX-N600 offers four A/V inputs, including the composite-only one on the front panel. The three rear-panel inputs can be assigned to composite, S-Video, or component ins, and all of the incoming video is converted to component out, so you need to run only a single set of cables to your TV. Unless, that is, you need HDMI connectivity, which is completely absent on the RX-N600. That's not entirely surprising on a receiver that lists for $600, but some models--such as the JVC RX-D412--do deliver HDMI connectivity with some impressive features (analog-to-digital conversion, deinterlacing) for less than $500.

On the audio front, you get four digital inputs (three opticals, one coaxial), and one optical output. Stereo analog connections run to one input and one in/out recorder loop suitable for tape decks, CD recorders, and the like. The 5.1-channel analog SACD/DVD-Audio inputs can also accommodate Blu-ray and HD-DVD players. (Vinyl heads take note: There's no dedicated phono input, so if your turntable doesn't deliver a line-level output, you'll need an outboard phono preamp.) If you want to keep your multiroom audio options simple, use the B stereo speaker outputs. Or go ahead and use the 12-volt trigger and/or stereo analog outputs to drive an amplifier for Zone 2 operation.

The RX-N600 isn't just XM Satellite Radio ready, it's also capable of receiving XM's two new HD Surround-formatted channels. All you need is an XM Mini-Tuner Connect-and-Play Home Kit and a $12.95-per-month XM subscription. Before measuring the home-theater prowess of the Yamaha RX-N600, we tested its various unique digital media functions. We jump-started the networking features by running an Ethernet cable from our broadband router to the receiver's backside. (Using a power-to-Ethernet bridge or wireless bridge should work if there's no cable within reach.) Once connected, the Internet radio feature worked without any problems, and we were easily able to tune in to a diverse selection of stations, from podcasts to classical music. Although we liked that there were tons of Internet radio presets, we would have liked to add more Internet radio streams--in other words, you're stuck with what Yamaha gives you. Accessing music on our PC was just as easy, with the receiver recognizing our computer shortly after we booted Windows Connect 2.0 (Macs aren't supported). We had no problem playing MP3s and WMAs but had some trouble getting WAV files to play. As mentioned, copy-protected (commercially purchased) files won't work.

Turning to the RX-N600's USB port, we had no problem playing MP3s and WMAs in general, but one out of the three flash drives we tried was not recognized at all. Another annoyance: files played from USB can't be paused, only stopped and restarted from the beginning. On a happier note, the Compressed Music Enhancer did what the name implies. We're pretty skeptical about such things, which either don't work or actually make things sound worse. We used the Enhancer while listening to XM Radio, and while the effect varied with the music that was playing at any given moment, the Enhancer seemed to slightly reduce the harshness associated with compressed digital audio. And since the RX-N600's connectivity is directed to address the needs of buyers who listen to compressed music files from their PCs, satellite radio, MP3, or iPod, the Enhancer will offer some sound quality improvement.

The big problem with the digital audio features of the RX-N600 are that they just aren't quite as good as, say, adding a $200 Roku SoundBridge M1001 to any other A/V receiver. In addition to wider file support, the SoundBridge offers an easy way to change Internet radio presets, and includes Wi-Fi connectivity. It would've been nice to see at least some of those features built into the Yamaha.

With the digital audio functionality tested, we kicked off standard home-theater evaluations with the Poseidon DVD. The capsized ocean liner, flooded with water, produced massive deep bass effects, and we felt ourselves surrounded by rushing water, punctuated by huge torrents bursting through the ship's bulkheads. While the Yamaha RX-N600 took the onslaughts in stride and played loudly enough to satisfy our lust for home-theater-rattling special effects, the sound lacked oomph. That's not to say that the Yamaha didn't provide yeoman's service; it was certainly on a par with other $600 A/V receivers we've tested. But there was a restrained quality to the sound. We did briefly compare the RX-N600 with an Onkyo TX-SR674 receiver ($700), which is also rated at 95 watts per channel, and felt the Onkyo had a more substantial tonal balance, with greater spatial depth on DVDs and CDs.

The 5.1-channel surround mix on The Allman Brothers at the Fillmore East SACD was more successful. The band's music was impressively dynamic, and the disc transported us to the legendary rock theater's acoustics. Our only quibble was bass definition, which seemed a trifle soft or lacking precision. Meanwhile, Tom Petty's new CD, Highway Companion, was beautifully detailed and clear.

XM satellite radio playback worked fine (once a working XM antenna was attached, of course). Unfortunately, the owner's manual doesn't directly offer much information about how to access the RX-N600's Neural processing mode, which is used to decode XM Surround. We couldn't figure it out on our own, so we checked with one of Yamaha's product engineers. You need to first bring up the Standard Surround menu, then repeatedly hit the remote's Select button to toggle through the options until Neural lights up on the RX-N600's display. Once set, the RX-N600 will automatically bring up Neural processing when you select XM, but the catch is that Neural processing almost completely destroys stereo separation on non-HD Surround-encoded channels, so most of the sound comes from the center speaker. The cure is simple enough: revert back to normal stereo when listening to stereo channels.


Yamaha RX-N600

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 8Performance 7